Guardianship Training is Now Required

Guardianship Training is Now Required

As of January 1, 2023, Wisconsin law requires all new individual guardians to complete a state-approved training course. Prior to this year, Wisconsin only required corporate guardians to have formal training. Now every individual who is nominated to be the guardian of a person or of the estate (the assets and finances of the person) must complete training on a variety of topics, and submit a sworn, notarized affidavit attesting that the training has been completed before they can be appointed guardian.

Wis. Stat. § 54.26 sets forth the required areas of training, including the following:

  • The duties and required responsibilities of a guardian under the law and limits of a guardian’s decision-making authority.
  • Alternatives to guardianship, including supported decision-making agreements and
    powers of attorney.
  • Rights retained by a ward.
  • Best practices for a guardian to solicit and understand the wishes and preferences of a ward, involving a ward in decision making, and taking a ward’s wishes and preferences into account in decisions made by the guardian.
  • Restoration of a ward’s rights and the process for removal of guardianship.
  • Future planning and identification of a potential standby or successor guardian.
  • Resources and technical support for guardians.

In most cases, it is a family member who is petitioning for guardianship of a loved one, and they often have misconceptions about what guardianship is or is not. Many are not aware of the responsibilities that they will have as guardian, or that there are a number of ongoing administrative requirements they will be required to complete. The court system is not equipped to provide guidance and advice to guardians on an ongoing basis, which can leave guardians feeling overwhelmed and lacking support. Training for guardians can be vital in helping guardians know what to expect and how to address concerns as they navigate their ongoing role as guardian.

The training must be completed no later than four days (96 hours) before the final guardianship hearing, and must be completed by the nominated guardian of person or estate, as well as any standby or successor guardians of person or estate. The training is free and available as a self-paced, online course. https://www.uwgb.edu/guardianship-training/

If you have questions on guardianships or the required training please reach out to one of our experienced attorneys.

Stepping Down as a Presonal Representative

Stepping Down as a Presonal Representative

There are a number of factors to consider before agreeing to take on the responsibility of serving as Personal Representative of someone’s estate. If a friend or family member has asked you to serve in any of these roles, it is important for you to think carefully about your ability to take on the responsibilities of the role and whether you are prepared for the legal obligations expected of you. As an attorney who practices in the estate settlement area, I have helped numerous Personal Representatives successfully handle estate administrations. The job of Personal Representative, however, can be somewhat daunting to someone who has never had the experience of serving, and should not be taken lightly.

A Personal Representative (also called “Executor”) is the person appointed to administer the estate of someone who has passed away. The Personal Representative is responsible for gathering and safeguarding the assets of the deceased, ensuring that all debts and expenses of administration are paid, and distributing the deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries named in the deceased person’s Will. In addition, the Personal Representative is responsible to report to the Court during the various stages of administration of the estate.

Importantly, being named in a person’s Will is only a nomination, not an actual appointment. Before serving, a person nominated as Personal Representative must first be appointed by the Court before they can officially serve in that capacity.

What factors should you consider when deciding whether or not to accept the nomination?

  • Do you have the skills necessary to serve? A Personal Representative must be well-organized, detail-oriented, and have the ability to take on the responsibility of handling the financial assets that belong to the estate.
  • Do you have the time necessary to serve? Consider how close you live to the decedent. The estate will be handled in the county where the deceased passes away, and there will likely be financial institutions, agents, accountants and legal professionals that you will need to meet with in the decedent’s county of residence. There may be multiple beneficiaries that require your time and patience to explain the process and timelines.
  • Are you comfortable with the responsibility of acting as a fiduciary? A fiduciary’s duty is the obligation to act in someone else’s interest rather than your own. While that may seem like a common-sense approach to handling the estate of someone who has died, the most common disputes in probate administrations involve accusations that a personal representative has breached their duty to administer the estate in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

What if you decide not to serve? If you consider all of the factors and decide you do not want to take on the role as Personal Representative, the next steps depend on timing.

  • Before Death Occurs
    If someone asks you to serve as Personal Representative or notifies you that they have already named you in their Last Will and Testament, you can still decline the role. Simply advise them that while you are honored to be considered, you are unable to accept. If the Will has already been prepared, they will need to notify their attorney that an amendment, or Codicil, will need to be prepared to change the provisions regarding the nominated Personal Representative.
  • After Death but Before Appointment
    If you are nominated in the Will, but have not yet been formally appointed, you can notify the beneficiaries and heirs that you do not intend to serve. You should then file a Declination to Serve with the probate court. Most Wills provide for an alternate Personal Representative to serve in the event the first nominated Personal Representative is unwilling or unable to serve.
  • Resignation After Acceptance
    If you have already been formally appointed as the executor by the probate court, but wish to resign, you must file a formal resignation with the probate court. The Court may require a hearing to accept the resignation and notice will need to be given to the heirs and beneficiaries before a new Personal Representative can be appointed. You may continue to have ongoing responsibility to protect the estate until the new Personal Representative is issued letters of authority to act on behalf of the estate.

Relinquishing the responsibility to act as Personal Representative should not be taken lightly. If you have already been appointed by the Court, it is important to seek legal advice about best practices for discontinuing your responsibilities while protecting the estate and the rights of the heirs and beneficiaries. Please reach out to one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to help with this process.

 

Tips to Avoid Scams and Identity Theft

Tips to Avoid Scams and Identity Theft

In today’s fast paced world, there is no end to the types of scams that target people of all ages, income levels and backgrounds. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one out of every ten adults in the United States will become a victim to a scam or fraud every year. Although one might think that scams, fraud and identity theft are easy to recognize, a study conducted by the Better Business Bureau, FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and the Standford Center for Longevity found that 53% of all people approached by scammers will engage with them, while less than half become immediately suspicious and ignore the approach.

To avoid a Scam, be alert to these warning signs – the Four P’s:

PRETEND – Scammers will pretend to be from an organization you know and may use technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID to a familiar organization, like the IRS, Social Security Administration, Amazon or a charitable organization.

PROBLEM OR PRIZE – Scammers will then try to convince you that you are in trouble with the government and that you owe money. Sometimes you will be told that there is a problem or unauthorized charge on one of your accounts and you need to verify the account information, or that you have won a sweepstakes or lottery, but need to pay a fee to get the prize.

PRESSURE – Scammers want you to act immediately before you have time to verify anything or check out their story. They may say that if you act right now, the problem will be taken care of immediately before any further problems or damage occurs.

PAY – A sure sign of a scam is that you are asked to pay in a specific way, like with a money transfer company or through a gift card. Some will send a fake check to you, ask you to deposit it and send them the money.

What can you do?

  • Block unwanted calls and text messages.
  • Never give your personal or financial information to a request you were not expecting. Legitimate organizations and retailers do not call, email or text you and ask for personal information.
  • Do not click on links in emails sending information you have not requested or that you are not expecting. While the email may look like it comes from a company you do business with, if you were not expecting it, it is probably not real.
  • Resist the pressure. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.
  • Never pay someone with a gift card or a money transfer service and do not accept or deposit checks for the purpose of sending money back to someone else.

Finally, in the event you are targeted or fall victim to a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov. If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, you can also put an alert and/or a freeze on your credit reports. Both can be done by calling the three credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian and Equifax) or going to each bureau online and placing the alert or freeze yourself. You can lift a freeze at any time. A fraud alert will require creditors to verify your identity before processing credit applications.  A credit freeze blocks any access to your credit report. The purpose is to prevent someone who may be trying to use your identity to obtain loans or credit card accounts in your name.

For more information about common scams and frauds visit https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds.

Protecting Retirement Accounts for Spouses Who Need Long Term Care

Protecting Retirement Accounts for Spouses Who Need Long Term Care

Given the rapidly increasing cost of long-term care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, many couples inquire about how to protect their assets from being consumed by such costs, particularly their retirement accounts which often account for the majority of their wealth. While the Medicaid program is designed to provide payment for long term care costs for those who cannot afford the monthly cost, it is only available to those who qualify financially. A major determining factor for Medicaid eligibility is the amount of resources (assets) that are available to pay for care. An applicant for Medicaid cannot qualify for assistance if they possess excess assets, including the value of their retirement accounts. The Medicaid program also looks at the assets of the spouse in determining whether the applicant qualifies for assistance.

For married couples, the spouse who needs long term care (the “institutionalized spouse”) can only have $2,000. The spouse who does not need long-term care (the “community spouse”) can have the residence, vehicle, personal property and their own retirement accounts. They can also have a community spouse resource allowance that is based on the total countable assets that the couple has at the time of applying for Medicaid (between a minimum of $50,000 and a maximum of $130,380). Although the community spouse’s retirement accounts are not counted, all retirement accounts of the institutionalized spouse are counted in determining the asset limit. This can be very problematic when the institutionalized spouse has larger retirement accounts than the community spouse. Normally, the institutionalized spouse cannot just transfer their retirement accounts to their spouse without triggering income tax on the entire amount transferred.

The exception is a transfer of a “qualified” retirement asset that is divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Qualified plans include: 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, pensions, 403(B) plans and some forms of Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRAs. QDRO’s are typically thought of as a mechanism to divide assets when a couple divorces; however, if the retirement account is held in a “qualified plan” it can be divided by a QDRO without having to go through a divorce. Although a court order is required, it can be obtained in an action in family court for property division of a married couple, or through a guardianship action for transfer of the ward’s assets to a spouse, and no divorce action is required. Whether to bring the action in family action or a guardianship action will vary depending upon the circumstances, but either will accomplish obtaining the necessary court order.  Importantly, if the retirement account is an IRA, then a legal separation action must be filed in family court. Federal law provides that non-qualified retirement assets that are transferred from one spouse to another are not taxed if “transferred under a divorce or legal separation instrument.”

The benefits of the transfer of retirement accounts are numerous. Once a retirement account is transferred, the community spouse will become the owner of the qualified plan, without triggering any tax. The account will be considered an exempt retirement asset of the community spouse and will not interfere with the institutionalized spouse’s eligibility for Medicaid. Furthermore, any income received from the retirement account will not be considered available to pay the institutionalized spouse’s care costs and will not be available for estate recovery.

Although the transfer of a retirement account can be accomplished at the time one spouse needs care, it is important to think about advanced planning so that if retirement accounts need to be transferred pursuant to legal action, you have given each other the authority to do so under your durable general powers of attorney or other documents in case the institutionalized spouse is unable to sign the documents necessary to participate in the planning. Consult with a qualified elder law attorney who can be sure that you have the necessary documents in place for this important advanced planning.

 

Post Pandemic Public Benefits, Who Will Lose Eligibility?

Post Pandemic Public Benefits, Who Will Lose Eligibility?

During the Public Health Emergency (PHE), the State of Wisconsin was required to keep people enrolled in Medicaid as a condition of receiving a temporary increase in the federal share of Medicaid costs.  When the PHE ends (recently extended to January of 2022) so will the increased funding, and the state will need to look at whether currently eligible individuals will be renewed for benefits. 

Those individuals who could keep benefits during the PHE were:

  • Individuals who did not pay their patient liability or monthly cost share;
  • Individuals who did not report changes in assets, income, work status or household composition;
  • Individuals who received maximum FoodShare benefits during the pandemic regardless of qualification; and
  • Individuals over age 65 who received prescription drug benefits but did not do their annual renewals or pay the annual fee.

When the enhanced federal funding ends, states will need to resume processing renewals for eligibility, many of which have been pending for almost 18 months.  Current federal guidance provides that states will have up to 12 months to discontinue benefits that were extended under the PHE.  Further, an individual must be provided with at least 60 days advanced notice before losing benefits.

For individuals who properly reported the receipt of excess assets and income during the PHE and continued to receive benefits, an overpayment occurred that has not yet impacted benefits.  For those who did not properly report changes in resources, a discontinuance of benefits may be looming.  The fate of those who properly reported changes remains to be seen in terms of how the penalty for overpayment will be treated.  Generally, only those overpayments that are due to a consumer’s failure to report or provide updated information are recoverable.  Consult with your attorney to ensure that you are provided with the requisite time frame to provide necessary eligibility verification and proper notice of any adverse action regarding benefits.